2014 – August: Osage County

When I said Meryl Streep was at her best in the Iron Lady, I never thought she’d be doing the role of Violet Weston in August : Osage County.

Review By 

A memorably bitter highlight in August: Osage Country, Tracy Letts’Pulitzer Prize-winning play, was the coruscating post-funeral lunch scene. This takes up maybe 25 minutes of screen time in the film, but you’ll be too busy wincing, guffawing and hiding behind your fingers to count them. The tone of this disastrous wake is set, as often, by Violet Weston (Meryl Streep), the malevolent, drug-addicted matriarch of her sizeable Oklahoma family, whose resentments against all three of her middle-aged daughters, as well as various other near and dear, get a thorough and unhinged airing.

Letts has adapted this himself, with John Wells (The Company Men) directing. At first, the film’s heading to be a mild disappointment. The scenes prior to this blazing centrepiece are muffled and rhythmically off, certainly compared with the play’s brilliant staging at the National Theatre, which lured you into this family’s myriad secrets and woes with a cosy largesse. It’s a weakness of the play that the men are much less interestingly drawn than the women, and not all the casting transcends this problem, even if Chris Cooper, as Violet’s brother-in-law, and Benedict Cumberbatch, as her nephew, have their affecting moments.

August: Osage County has no subtext to speak of; it’s all bellowed into your face. On Broadway, its Chicago actors knew how to modulate their performances and together build the tension, beat by beat. (Last year, Letts himself gave a master class in modulation as George in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) But director John Wells fractures the action, jumping back and forth between stars in close-up yelling at one another in the style of a more profane Steel Magnolias. In stage adaptations, I prefer direction that’s less on-the-nose and more keyed to the ensemble, to the movement of actors in relation to one another in wider shots. I enjoyed much of it, but I could hear that old man in back of me saying, “No it’s not,” and I wondered if he’d been right. Wells dotes on his actors so much that he exposes the play’s contrivances.


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